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Naval Fighting Tactics


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I don't know the answer to your question myself, but it would help others answer it if you specify the geographical area and time period (probably only to the nearest century) you wish to know about. There is certainly information available on the subject, but I'm not the one with the information to hand.



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OK - I'll narrow it down a bit - although anything would be a start. My interest was ships of sail, and I don't really care about galley warfare - ramming, etc.  Lets keep it between 1600 and 1825. I have come up with zilch so I am not going to be picky when it comes to British tactics, French, Spanish or whatever. If you know of anything, let me know.

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I'm hopeful that someone can answer your question in depth with some book references. As tactics did evolve and what worked in one battle may not have worked in others. EDIT: And Vossie beat me to it... there is a book.


The only book I have that discusses tactics (but only in a limited sense of the battles the ship fought) is  The Billy Ruffian by David Cordingly.

Per the book (greatly summerized):

Generally, for much of the period you're interested in, fleet actions were pretty straight forward it seems.  They'd form up a line of ships on one side (call them fleet A) and the other side would form up opposite them (call them fleet B).  They would then just hammer away at each other.  I'm sure there were exceptions.  Per the book, Nelson changed things for fleet actions by charging the line with two lines of his ships.  They would then break through the line of battle and attack on the opposite side. As they broke through, they opened fire on the unprotected sterns and bows at the break points.  


As for single ship actions.... maneuver and fire.  When a ship was disabled and could maneuver no more, close in and board.


There's an old military saying that even with the best plans, all bets are off once the first shot is fired.


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12 minutes ago, mtaylor said:

.  They would then break through the line of battle and attack on the opposite side. As they broke through, they opened fire on the unprotected sterns and bows at the break points.  



Referred to as “Crossing the T”

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In Theodore Roosevelt's book "The Naval War of 1812" (one of the very few books on naval tactics that I have read to date), he goes into extensive detail on the manoeuvrings of the combatants in many encounters. He even includes a number of sketches to help explain, such as this one:


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4 hours ago, vossiewulf said:

In this book I found this matter well explained and covered. 

One of the main points to consider are the fleet actions vs the single ship duels: here the tactics are obviously very different . . 

Another matter is related to the ordnance strategic view: english approach vs french approach is very important . . .

Again, the sailmanship of the different navies is important to pursuit a tactic or another: Royal Navy was always on sea, French and Spanish navies vere manily blockaded in harbours . . 

Don't forget the famous "Fighting instructions" set up during the anglo-netherland wars and continously updated until begin XIX century . . 

So, to conclude, a very interesting matter, useful to understand how the battles were managed by admirals, navies, etc.

Regards, Jack.

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Here are a couple that may be of some use.

Guilmartin, John F. 2011. “The Military Revolution in Warfare at Sea during the Early Modern Era: Technological Origins, Operational Outcomes and Strategic Consequences.” Journal for Maritime Research 13 (2): 129–37. https://doi.org/10.1080/21533369.2011.622890.
International Congress of Historical Sciences (1913 : London, England). 1914. Naval and Military Essays; Being Papers Read in the Naval and Military Section at the International Congress of Historical Studies, 1913. Cambridge, University Press. http://archive.org/details/navalmilitaryess00interich.
Corbett, Julian Stafford, ed. 1905. Fighting Instructions, 1530-1816. [London] : Printed for the Navy Records Society. http://archive.org/details/fightinginstruct00corbuoft.
“‘Sailing and Fighting Instructions for His Majesty’s Fleet’, 1775.” 2016. May 15, 2016. http://www.bruzelius.info/Nautica/Signalling/SFI(1775).html.
Truxtun, Thomas. 1797. Instructions, Signals, and Explanations, Ordered for the United States Fleet: By Thomas Truxtun. Baltimore: Printed by John Hayes, in Public-Alley. http://www.history.navy.mil/library/anh/found1.htm.



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Google this :- the elements and practice of rigging and seamanship. All you will ever need to know is in there,you'll have to scroll down a fair way to reach the part about tactics. That part starts on page 347.  This online version was placed by The San Francisco maritime national  park association and is a direct copy of the 1794 edition of Steels' book.


Dave :dancetl6:

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Here are a couple of links to the treatise Dave referenced above.
Steel, David. 1794a. “The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship.” Historic Naval Ships Association. 1794. http://www.hnsa.org/resources/manuals-documents/age-of-sail/the-elements-and-practice-of-rigging-and-seamanship/.
———. 1794b. The Elements and Practice of Rigging and Seamanship, Etc. [By David Steel.]. David Steel. https://books.google.com/books?id=X235MgEACAAJ.
Here are a few more that may be of some use.
Blunt, Edmund March. 1813. Seamanship, Both in Theory and Practice: To Which Is Annexed, an Essay on Naval Tactics and Signals : Also, Regulations for the Government of the Navy of the United States of America ... : Including Also, Forms of General and Particular Orders for the Better Government and Discipline of Armed Ships ... : With a System of Naval Discipline, and the Acts Concerning Letters of Marque, Reprisals, Their Officers and Men : With a Cartel for Usage and Exchange of Prisoners ... E.M. Blunt. https://books.google.com/books?id=cPpOAAAAYAAJ.
Bourd_ de Villehuet, Jacques. 1788. The Manoeuverer, or Skilful Seaman: Being an Essay on the Theory and Practice of the Various Movements of a Ship at Sea, as Well as of Naval Evolutions in General. Printed for S. Hooper. http://archive.org/details/manoeuvererorski00bour.
Duffy, Michael. 2005. “The Gunnery at Trafalgar: Training, Tactics or Temperament?” Journal for Maritime Research 7 (1): 140–69. https://doi.org/10.1080/21533369.2005.9668349.
Park, Robert. 1706. The Art of Sea-Fighting: In Five Parts ... Printed for Rich. Mount and Tho. Page.  https://books.google.com/books?id=CH1ZAAAAYAAJ
Edited by trippwj
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Man - you guys are amazing! Great feedback. I happen to have the Roosevelt book gathering dust somewhere. The NWAOS link took me to Amazon where they have that book plus several more. They'll be taking more of my $$$.


Haven't chatted with a few of you in a while. It's good to hear from you all!


Thanks again....

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One more to try is 'Fighting at Sea in the Eighteenth Century - The Art of Sailing Warfare' by Sam Willis, ISBN 978-1-84383-367-3.  He covers everything from Fleet Tactics through 'Chase and Escape', Communication, Station Keeping, Command, Fighting Tactics, Damage, etc.  Sam's books are very readable.



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